A sucker for the popular, on Monday we decided to go and watch the award-winning film ‘The Favourite’. My knowledge of English history isn’t bad, but details of Queen Anne’s reign (1702-1714) have somehow escaped me. Now I know that she was bisexual, responsible for the union of England and Scotland, and looked like Olivia Colman. That’s right isn’t it? Having plenty of time before the film started, I left earlier than necessary so I could renew my International Driving Permit (IDP) at the Post Office.
On the bus into Brighton it occurred to me I should organise lunch with my dear friend Jon. Reaching for my iPhone I texted him, asking when he was free in the next couple of weeks. With an affirmative answer for week one, we then focused on whether Monday or Thursday was better. I wrote ‘poss Monday 14’ and said I would confirm when I got home. Not wanting to forget, I then went to my iPhone diary to add this. It was extremely disconcerting to find that the person who lives in my phone had been reading the text exchange and had already put into my schedule ‘poss lunch Jon’. Now that is very scary! Maybe I should call it AI?
At Churchill Square I went down into the bowels of WH Smiths, the national newsagent chain established in 1792, to go to the in-store Post Office. (See note 1) It had had a make-over since I was last there. There is a self-service area where you could weigh, determine the correct postage, and then dispatch your packet or parcel, a ‘digital transactions’ booth, screened by a curtain, and a queue! Well, when isn’t there a queue in a post office?
It was the reason these scribbles came into life, to avoid a queue in a Rio de Janeiro post office to buy some stamps. Brighton queues are of course fascinating for the diversity of their participants, but only to those who don’t live here; we get inured! Ten people in front; I look at my watch – time enough before the film starts I reckon.
The city’s diversity stretches to the staff. There are two counters; at one a chap in his 50s with well-cut greying hair and a goatee beard which is long enough to be plaited into a little rat-like tail, and next to him a man in his 30s who must have been to a local Turkish barber where, halfway through the haircut, he got up and left, leaving the left side of his head almost shaved and the hair on the other side long. I am not sure whether this look will catch on. The queue moves forward and I find myself in front of Mr Half-half. He looks at me as if I am a waste of time and glares questioningly; a ‘Good afternoon, how can I help you?’ was too much!
“I would like to like to renew my International Driving Licence please, to be effective from the end of this month.”
His body language suggests he’d rather be in Outer Mongolia and his sigh could have blown a house down. He gets up, rummages on some shelf a long way away, and comes back with a box of IDP forms.
“Where are you going and do you have your UK Driving Licence and a photograph?”
“Brazil” I answer, pushing a photo and my licence under the window. “And here’s my old licence if that helps?”
Why did I do that? I could have just given him what he asked for and would have been out of there within 10 minutes.
He starts filling out the form, then notices that the photo I have given him is the same as the one in my expiring IDP.
“It says ‘recent’ photo. This one is a year old.”
“My face hasn’t changed in 12 months” I say, pushing my visage against the glass.
“It says, recent and this is not recent. The rules is the rules.”
Purists of our language will know immediately that this should have been ‘the rules are the rules’ but I don’t feel I would gain any advantage if I point this out to him.
“Go and get a new photograph.”
I am about to get angry, realise that this will gain me nothing and that it’s better to just let it go. I turn and walk off to the nearby Photo-Me booth, conveniently located about 30 metres away. It’s occupied. I wait, looking at the advertising on the side of the cubicle and notice the variations of print form; beside me cartons of rolls of half-price Christmas wrapping paper almost become tempting! The dark blue leggings and little ankle boots visible under the booth’s drawn curtain suggest the occupier is female, but you never know in Brighton!
“This photograph does not comply. Please check your settings and try again.” The computer-generated voice tells them they have got it wrong. She tries again …… and again. In the older booths there used to be a little metal stool whose height you could adjust to ensure your eyes were in the correct place. Here there’s a large cerise rubber ball and the machine adjusts itself. The anodyne voice continues to say that the photograph is not compliant ….. and the woman is getting frustrated. Nothing compared to the chap, me (!), outside, who’s looking at his watch and wondering whether he will make the curtain up in the cinema. Obviously his expressions of exasperation become loud enough, the curtain is ripped back and the woman escapes, unsuccessful, and disappears, muttering to herself and throwing me a dirty look.
The old IDP photo (Jan 2018) compared with today
Five minutes later I am back at the end of the queue in the Post Office with five copies of a ‘recent’ photo. Fortunately Goatee Beard and Mr Half Half are busy and I present myself to the next free counter, manned by a young woman (Ed. That could be ‘womaned by a young woman’ in these ridiculously PC times, could it not?) with yellow-streaked purple hair and a few studs. She’s only worked for the post office for 9 months and has never done an IDP for Brazil (IDP1926 – see note 2) so she’s delightfully keen to get it right and, very quickly, we are done and dusted, without any fuss; I pay my £5.50 and head off to the cinema.
Simple observations about C21st life.
Richard 12th January 2019
- Despite this digital age, WH Smiths sells magazines, newspapers and books. There are some 2800 different magazine titles published annually in print form in the UK.
- It’s rumoured that UK citizens will need an IDP to drive in Europe after we leave the EU. I hope it’s from the same rumour factory that says post-Brexit flights will be unable to land in Europe.